Best/Worst Teacher

Claims, Reasons, Evidence, Acknowledgment and Response, Warrants
Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 30-40 minutes
Related handout

This activity is the standard introduction to the parts of argument, emphasizing how natural and common arguments are, and how easily they arise from common questions. Do this activity before you've talked at all about the parts of argument--many instructors use it after they've had the "argument as war" conversation.
Ask students to pair up and share stories about the best or worst teacher they've ever had (You can adapt the question to suit your theme: what's the best/worst movie from the past decade? Which Constitutional Amendment is most important?). Then, reconvene the class and ask whose partner had a good story: who sounded like a fabulous or horrible teacher. (By asking students to volunteer their partners, you'll get more volunteers and more reliable responses.)

Choose one of the volunteered students to tell his/her story. Direct the conversation through the five questions of argument, and write the responses on the board:

Okay, what do you think about the teacher--would you say Mrs. Krebopple was a horrible teacher?

Why do you think that? What made Mrs. Krebopple so horrible? Anything else?

Well, how do you know? Can you give us an example of a specific time that happened?

What do you think someone who disagrees with you about Mrs. Krebopple would say? (Or, what would Mrs. Krebopple say to defend herself?) What would you say back?

So, you think Mrs. K. was a horrible teacher because she smoked during class. So, would you say that any teacher who smokes during class is a horrible teacher?

Write the responses to your question on the board. Then, explain to the class that these are all the parts of an academic argument. Label them and reiterate the questions they respond to. Then, ask for one more volunteer, and go through the questions again, this time highlighting the parts of argument you're asking about (So, what's your claim here? What do you think about Miss Landers? etc.)

Please note: It's not uncommon for students to offer a terrible reason: Mr. X was a bad teacher because he was effeminate; Mrs. X was horrible because she worked at Radio Shack part-time. Just accept them, check them as warrants: so, you're saying that anyone who works part-time at Radio Shack is a horrible teacher? If they say, yes, just move on. Then, come back to the reason in your discussion of the parts of argument: Okay, so here's where arguments can break down: as a reader, I'm just not going to believe your reason because I think you're warrant is ridiculous/offensive. Because I don't believe one of your reasons, I'm less likely to believe your claim. When you write, think about what your warrants are and whether your readers are likely to share them.

Afterwards, put students into small groups and ask them to come up with arguments about a new topic: some that are easy for UVA first-years are whether old dorms or new dorms (or Hereford/Brown/IRC) are better, which day is the best/worst day of the week. Specify that they need a certain number of reasons and pieces of evidence. Share results as a class.